Measuring the representativeness of social partners in Europe

By Marta Martínez and Pedro Martins

Are workers and firms well represented in social dialogue? In many countries, affiliation rates to social partners (employer associations and trade unions) have been decreasing for decades. However, social dialogue still regulates labour conditions of a significant part of firms and workers through collective agreements and, in some cases, their extensions. The result of this social dialogue generally includes conditions over wages, working time, training, and many other issues, with important effects on the labour market and the economy.

Creator: Hilch Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Given the importance of social dialogue, the representativeness of its constituents is critical. This is even more relevant in the present times in which countries are facing a pandemic and its aftermath. In general, if affiliation rates are low, there might be firms or workers for which their preferences are not represented and their views are not heard.

This post summarizes our recent working paper, “How representative are social partners in Europe? The role of dissimilarity” in which we propose a complementary measure of representativeness by comparing distributions of firms affiliated and not affiliated in employers’ associations. This corresponds to the analysis of dissimilarity or segregation that have been conducted in different settings but not in the context of labour representation. We also compared firms with trade unions or work council representatives. In both cases, we do so across industry and firm-size categories and for 32 European countries, using the European Company Survey and also detailed data on all firms in Portugal.

The results show that, in most countries, affiliated and non-affiliated firms are distributed in a dissimilar way, i.e. they are concentrated in different firm size categories, for instance. Moreover, we find a positive correlation between affiliation to employers´ associations and dissimilarity levels across countries. This means that higher affiliation rates do not necessarily equate to lower dissimilarity levels. For instance, while France, Spain, Portugal and Greece have similar affiliation levels of around 50%, they exhibit very different dissimilarity levels: Firms affiliated and non-affiliated to employers’ associations in France and Spain have very low dissimilarity levels (of about 20%), while firms in Portugal and Greece are much more dissimilar (around 33% and 45%, respectively).

The results above are also supported when analyzing the case of Portugal using better data and comparing across different employers’ associations.

Overall, these results show that the use of both affiliation and dissimilarity measures may be necessary to have a better understanding of representativeness of social partners and their preferences in the social dialogue.

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